In 2014, at the first ever Civic Hackathon in the city of Peshawar sponsored by the KP IT Board, there came a young man, who at the age of 21, won the challenge. Victus, venit, videns – he came, he saw, he conquered. During the hackathon, he developed a mobile application that would help people reach out to their neighbours in times of emergency – a Samaritan based emergency alert app. He named it Messiah. Messiah was created to help people during sickness, theft, accident and any such emergency. Hence the name Messiah (the saviour). However, his victory at the hackathon was not the end of the challenge but was just the start of his entrepreneurial journey.
After winning the challenge, the idea gained popularity and from an idea arose a startup. Ebtihaj, the CEO of the startup, was offered by the World Bank to join the bootcamp at Oasis 500 – an incubator and an accelerator in Jordan. Ebtihaj and his team members not only developed their idea further but by the end of the bootcamp made it a greater success. On their return to Pakistan, they participated in the second Digital Youth Summit where they raised an investment of USD 100,000, after which they were again offered a spot for incubation at Oasis 500 for four months. That was the start of one thrilling entrepreneurial journey of Messiah.
About The Messiah App
The key selling point of Messiah was that the app had accident detection feature which helped send an alert to the emergency contacts of the user. Through market testing, it was identified that there were some technical issues with the mobile application in terms of feasibility and compatibility of the app with the hardware (mobile phones). To address the issue, the team switched to an IOT hardware-based solution where they developed a hardware onto which they would code their software and called it Muhafiz (the protector). This hardware was to be used in automobiles for accident detection and emergency alerts. However, that wasn’t enough for the users to buy the product. So, other features were added to the app such as damage detection, theft detection etc. Nonetheless, that became a challenge as well in terms of market penetration as there were already some giant businesses in the market offering the same solution, whom Messiah couldn’t compete at the time. Ultimately, the team thought of switching their solution from cars to bikes, but the biggest challenge there was cost, as the hardware’s worth was equal to that of the bike. This time affordability became a challenge.
Sometime down the road, the team decided to give up on and let go of Messiah. Why? Well for multiple reasons: for one, there were serious compatibility issues of the app and the mobile devises e.g. the difference between the Android and iOS operating systems. Secondly, the investors were interested in the app being customised for air emergency as well which was not technically feasible in Pakistan. Thirdly, the investors wanted to merge Messiah with a few other startups. That meant losing Messiah’s individual entity. Finally, this journey came to an end.
The personal experience
Every story involves characters and so does an entrepreneurial journey. The main character in this journey is the founder of the startup. The brain behind the idea/product. Success and failure are the two critical faces of entrepreneurship but most important is the journey itself. While walking this path, an entrepreneur who is also an individual full of feelings and emotions, goes through a turbulent flight of good days and bad days and sometimes the ugly days. Success also comes with a high chance of losing your mind and being on cloud nine. Couple that with a pinch of hubris and everything else seems way below oneself; while failure can take you to the ever-new lows in life. And in a nutshell, those are the two-dangerous places where one can land in an entrepreneurial adventure.
We asked Ebtihaj about his unique experience and how he felt through all the stages, from swiftly raising an investment to calling off his startup. He responded that he was mentally prepared for the unforeseen circumstances. Ebtihaj felt overwhelmed with the initial success of the startup, however, he said at the same time he felt anxious, as he realised that running a social enterprise is a huge responsibility. He mentioned that lack of experience in entrepreneurship at the age of 21 came with a lot of uncertainty and higher probability of failure. For some people success takes them away from the real world, however, for Ebtihaj, the brief period of success humbled him. That’s what we think the true spirit of entrepreneurship is. To celebrate success with humility and to embrace failure with courage.
Your key takeaways from Messiah?
Young entrepreneurs think it is hard to find investors. Well it’s hard to find the ‘right’ investors for your business. There are many investors in the market, but the challenge is to find the right ones who truly understand your idea, your business inspiration and your passion for it. Such an investor will help you achieve your business goals and vision. Otherwise you may have to bid farewell to your idea and never return to it again.
If you are truly passionate about your business idea, then seek to bootstrap your startup than to raise an investment. Investment ties you down and you don’t have the free space to work on your own. That usually results in your idea being completely snatched out of your hands and turned into something new. You may not like that very much!
When forming a team, don’t always just focus on the right skillset of a person but look for someone who shares the same passion with you. That’s what is basically required in entrepreneurship as your passion will always be your driving force. Many startups fail because they start with the want of money and not to make a difference.
There is no replacement for professionalism. Think of yourself as a professional from day one and work towards mastering it. Do not wait for things to happen on their own without you blinking an eye. Learn how to get your hands dirty and that’s when you will truly own and run your startup. That still doesn’t guarantee success, however, that will certainly make you a professional with vast hands on experience.
Be open to collaboration. It’s okay to ask for help. Reach out to those you think can help you with what is not your own expertise. There is no harm in exposing your weaknesses. If you see value in collaboration just go after it, as long as it helps you reach your goals.
Team. Commitment. Investment
Remember! raising an investment shouldn’t be your priority, but a good team and their commitment should be. When you get the first two, investment will follow.
Our take on this story
We found this story ripe for sharing with our readers especially the young and aspiring entrepreneurs. This story essentially leaves us with two lessons of paramount significance in entrepreneurial context.
One such lesson is to be able to take tough decisions as an entrepreneur even at a loss. While recalling his journey, Ebtihaj mentioned that he was the only one who stood against the investors when they demanded to merge Messiah with some other entity. He stepped aside from the position of CEO and let someone else take the charge. However, he recalled that it was the right thing to do as he felt that his vision for Messiah was blurring because of the investor’s demands and conflicting interests.
Secondly, the ability to accept failures. The entire team especially the CEO accepted that this is the fate of Messiah and they gave up on the whole idea altogether. Once they backed out, they handed over the algorithm of the software and returned all the hardware and other assets they had purchased to the investors, and Messiah as a startup had to be forgotten.
Entrepreneurship is not only about being successful; it is also about knowing how one can be extremely unsuccessful too. Failure as we speak becomes an experience if only, we tend to learn from it. In the realm of entrepreneurship, failures help you do better with your next venture. Not only that, they enable us to share our experiences with others; as did Ebtihaj. The fact that he had to wind up his startup, didn’t stop him from thinking further like an entrepreneur. In fact, he would like to come back again in the entrepreneurial ecosystem whilst holding onto the lessons he learnt from Messiah. And we shall await his return. Maybe something like the Messiah App will happen again. One hopes.